Football Commentator & Columnist
Martin Tyler's World Cup diary: Rekindling acquaintances with Mario Kempes
Last Updated: 13/07/18 4:43pm
Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler reflects on a meeting with former World Cup hero Mario Kempes in Moscow.
This World Cup - my 11th - has given me a wonderfully nostalgic glimpse of my first, 40 years ago.
Kempes was voted player of the tournament, won the Golden Boot and netted two goals in Argentina's win over the Netherlands in the final in 1978. He is now part of the North American version of the Fifa computer game. The Alan Smith in Spanish!
With my equivalent, Fernando Palomo, acting as interpreter we swapped stories over several cups of coffee in Moscow.
Mario remembered training being interrupted in Argentina's camp the day before their fourth game in the competition, a grudge match against Brazil.
The coach Cesar Luis Menotti had spotted someone with binoculars peering down on the activities of the players from behind a security fence on a small hill overlooking the pitch.
I remembered the incident too. The "spy" was me.
Menotti dispatched his security men to deal with the intruder. I feared the worst but what had driven me there in the first place was a greater fear, that of not recognising the players.
I had been given a late call by my ITV employers to switch to this game which would be the biggest of my career to that point.
I held my nerve until I saw the size of the batons that the heavies were wielding. Retreat was the only course, and I backed away from my viewing position muttering that I would report that there were no "amigos" in the host country.
That parting shot must have hit a target. After a flurry of dialogue on the walkie-talkies I was allowed to stay.
My biggest worry was the Argentina numbers on the shirts that they had worn in the first group games. Adidas was the sponsor and the numbers were in that outline style that is still part of their brand. Three looked like five looked like eight looked like nine.
Come the game day imagine how delighted I was to see that the figures had been made solid on the back of those famous shirts. Forty years on Mario had no recollection. Fernando found pictures on the internet to prove that the change had really happened.
Mario's great pal from 1978 is Ossie Ardiles, and the squad are all linked on a world champions group chat.
I was sad to hear that they don't feel as appreciated in their own country as the players who won in Mexico eight years later. The military rule at the time makes that period in Argentina's history less than memorable, and even the footballing heroics have seemed a little tainted.
He told me how lucky he was to play in the finals. A knee injury six weeks before the tournament had all but ruled him out. Outside Valencia, where he was playing club football, he found a physio he had not used before who somehow manipulated away the problem.
Mario is the opposite of a showy world champion. He has no idea where his medal is. He swapped his shirt with Johan Neeskens and only when they spoke again 20 years later did he discover why the Dutchman did not turn up at the after match banquet. It was not because of a sulky reaction to defeat but because they could not leave their hotel because of the crowds outside celebrating Argentina's win.
I was able to confirm that. I had gone there for a farewell drink with their skipper, Ruud Krol, who had been particularly helpful to me in my work in the tournament. It was mayhem.
These were very different times. Mario talked of his room in the training camp, the only single one, but it didn't have a television or a door!
In the early hours of the day after the final he and a couple of team-mates who came from Rosario - a three-hour drive away - jumped in a car and went home to surprise their families. Mother Kempes thought it might be a burglar. Instead, it was the son who had just turned Argentina into a total and joyous party.
Four years ago, Mario Gotze, scored the goal which won the World Cup. On Sunday another Mario, this time Mandzukic, might do the same.
But there is only one Super Mario for me. Two days before his 64th birthday and 40 years after I interrupted his training session it was a thrill to finally meet him.
To be continued...